The ethics of video analytics

In this blogpost I will give a brief summary of my PhD research. The core aim of the research is to assess the ethical implications of the use of AI and big data analytics to analyze video images. Since that is a mouthful, I usually prefer to use the shorter version when introducing my research: I investigate the ethics of video analytics.

Video analytics is a big data analytics method that makes use of AI techniques to automatically analyze pre-existing or gathered video data and retrieve information from that data. Although video analytics has many possible applications, I focus on those that directly involve persons. This includes facial recognition, behavior analysis and emotion recognition systems. These video analytics systems can obtain much data and information about individuals, from one’s appearance to one’s thoughts and preferences.

To analyze the ethical implications of video analytics I use an unique approach. First I apply the method of Anticipatory Technology Ethics (ATE) to describe the technology, anticipate its future development and give an overview of ethical implications. Next I link the identified ethical implications to different forms of power. My ethical analysis is therefore simultaneously a power analysis.

I focus on the topic of power because video analytics is inseparable from power. Core elements of the technology – such as surveillance, knowledge acquisition, and the categorization of individuals – can all directly function as means to exercise power or gain control (which does not imply that all data acquisition necessarily resembles power). Moreover, power is inseparable from ethics too. Power is not an ethical issue per se, but it has the ability to include and exclude, to create capabilities and take them away, and to learn and unlearn certain behaviors. Because of this, it touches upon many ethical dimensions such as justice, freedom and autonomy.

The novelty of my research lies in two main things. First of all, so far not much has been said about the ethics of video analytics specifically. Since it is an emerging technology, video analytics is an important subject for ethical inquiry. Secondly, my focus on power in analyzing the ethics of video analytics is innovative, because the main debates in the ethics of AI have centered around privacy, transparency and algorithmic bias.

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